Japanese Food and Culture: A Vegetarian Menu to Celebrate Spring

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Clockwise from far left: short grain brown rice with aduki beans, hijiki with lotus root and carrot, shungiku and apple with walnut dressing, daikon and apricot sunomono, clear soup with brown shimeji mushrooms and watercress, tofu pouches stuffed with clear noodles and vegetables, with steamed asparagus. (Click on photo to enlarge)

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When Fumiko Arao and I came together recently to create this vegetarian meal, we brought very different backgrounds to her kitchen.  She grew up in Tokyo and learned cooking from her mother and grandmother.  I, long ago, lived in Japan and learned cooking as an apprentice in a six-table vegetarian restaurant in Osaka. But we agreed that the meal should be balanced, including rice, a sea vegetable, a pickle, soup, and an interesting entree, and that it should evoke the season, early spring. Also, we wanted it not to be so esoteric that you couldn’t reproduce it in your own kitchen. You will need to make a trip to a well-stocked Asian market such as Ranch 99, in the Bay Area, but if you do that, I’m pretty sure you’ll find all the ingredients you need.  And, of course there’s no need to reproduce the entire meal, pick and choose whatever seems interesting. Recipes and many more photos are after the jump.

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SHORT GRAIN BROWN RICE WITH ADUKI BEANS

Adding aduki beans makes ordinary rice special. Here is Fumi’s generic recipe for making aduki rice (one cup of raw rice yields 3-4 servings of cooked rice). Fumi soaks the rice and the beans separately overnight (you will need about 1/4 as many beans as rice).  The next day, she drains both and cooks the aduki beans half way, 20-30 minutes.  She then adds the aduki beans along with their cooking water to the raw, soaked rice, with enough additional water to make a total of 1/3 more liquid than rice. She covers the pot, brings it just to a boil, then, inserting a flame diffuser under the pot, cooks the rice and beans for 60 minutes. Then she lets it sit, covered, for 10 minutes. This will yield a soft, slightly sticky Japanese-style rice.

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Fumi begins by sautéing the hijiki.

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HIJIKI WITH LOTUS ROOT AND CARROT

Hijiki is a much loved sea vegetable in Japan.  Find it dried in black little shreds which first need to be soaked.
1/2 ounce hijiki soaked in water 15 minutes, drained
1/2 medium carrot cut in matchsticks
1 1/2-inch piece of lotus root cut into thin half rounds
juice from 1 tablespoon grated ginger
soy sauce, mirin, to taste
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, as garnish
sesame oil
1. Sauté hijiki first for 1-2 minutes in a small amount of sesame oil.
2. Add veggies, stir fry, 1-2 minutes, add a little water and a pinch of salt, cover and steam a few minutes more or until veggies are crisp-tender, adding 1 teaspoon soy sauce (or to taste), and mirin (optional).
3. Squeeze on the ginger juice last. Give a quick final stir and place in a small serving dish, garnishing with the sesame seeds.
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Hijiki with Lotus Root and Carrot

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Coarsely chop the blanched shungiku.

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SHUNGIKU AND APPLE WITH WALNUT DRESSING
Shungiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium) is a Japanese green vegetable sometimes called chrysanthemum leaves in the U.S. Usually sold in small bunches, you could substitute another leafy green vegetable such as mustard greens.
1 bunch shungiku, stem ends trimmed
1/2 medium apple, core removed, fan cut
1/4 cup lightly roasted walnuts
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon soy sauce, or to taste
pinch of salt
1. Blanch the shungiku in rapidly boiling water, 1-2 minutes. Remove from water, drain and pour on a few drops of soy sauce. Coarsely chop, squeeze out the excess water and put into a serving dish, along with the apple.
2. Make the dressing by grinding the walnuts, adding the mirin, soy sauce and salt to taste. Traditionally this is done with a Japanese suribachi, but a mortar and pestle or a food processor will work.
3. Toss this dressing with the shungiku and apple and serve.
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Grind the walnuts in a suribachi, with a mortar and pestle or a food processor.

Mix the chopped, blanched shungiku together with the apple and dressing.
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DAIKON AND APRICOT SUNOMONO
recipe is here.
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CLEAR SOUP WITH BROWN SHIMEJI MUSHROOMS AND WATERCRESS
This simple, light and easy to make soup is more flavorful than you might think, but having a good dashi is essential.
4 cups dashi
2 ounces brown shimeji mushrooms (or mushrooms of choice)
pinch of salt
soy sauce to taste
1/2 small bunch of watercress, leaves only
Nearly all traditional soups in Japan start with dashi, the simple soup stock which consists of kombu (sea kelp) and dried bonito (fish) flakes or dried shiitake mushrooms. Fumi keeps dashi in her fridge at all times, which she makes by adding 5-6 dried shiitake mushrooms to a one liter jar of water and letting it sit overnight in the fridge. Similarly, she soaks a 3-4 inch piece of kombu separately in another one liter jar. For our soup (3-4 small servings) we used 2 cups each of shiitake and kombu dashi. We warmed the dashi, adding a pinch of salt and a teaspoon or two or soy sauce, and simmered the mushrooms in this broth for only about five minutes.  At that point, taste to see that the mushrooms are tender, check the seasoning, adding a little more salt or soy sauce as needed.  Turn off the heat and garnish with the watercress.
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Gently slip a knife into one end of the tofu, loosen and pry open, thus creating a place for the stuffing.

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STUFFED TOFU POUCHES (ABURA AGE) WITH ASPARAGUS
8 tofu pouches (2.2 ounces)
3 ounces clear bean thread noodles
5-6 medium shiitake mushrooms, diced
1/4  carrot, diced
1/2 medium onion, peeled and diced
7 ounces medium-firm tofu, diced
2-3 green onions, trimmed and cut in thin rounds
For the broth: dashi, 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons mirin, pinch of salt or to taste
For the garnish: small bunch of thin asparagus, trimmed and blanched in boiling water for about a minute
1. Pour boiling water over the noodles, just to cover, and soak a few minutes until tender, but still slightly firm. Drain and cut into 2-inch lengths.
2. Blanch the tofu pouches in boiling water a couple of minutes, drain and gently press out excess water.  This reduces the oil content and makes the pouches easier to open.
3. Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms, carrot, onion and tofu in a small amount of sesame oil for 5-6 minutes, seasoning with a pinch of salt and a splash of soy sauce.
4. Slip a knife into one end of the tofu pouches and gently open up the middle so it can be stuffed.
5. Combine the noodles with the sautéed vegetables and the green onions, and gently stuff this filling into the pouches.
6. Place the pouches in a pot, add dashi (preferably) or water to come half way up the pouches.  Season to taste with salt, soy sauce and mirin.  Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes.
7. Serve garnished with a little broth and some of the asparagus.
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Stuffed tofu pouches simmering in a soy sauce broth

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5 responses

  1. Hi\

    love your posts
    the Japanese one posted today talks about a 1 litre bottel of kombu and 1 of shitaki mushrooms kept in the fridge.
    Are they boiled first ? are they just soaked raw and so one can use the water for soup ?
    love the idea .
    Thanks

    • My understanding is that Fumi just soaks them overnight without first boiling them. You use the water for dashi and the shiitakes and kombu can then also be cooked and used. No waste! A very simple and easy way to make dashi!

  2. Greetings ~ Great Japanese meal – –

    Thank you so much for this wonderful assortment of dishes!

    The new ckbk “Kansha” by Elisabeth Andoh gives a lot of info

    about making this kind of Kombu Dashi Stock.

    The book is all about Vegan Japanese Cooking and is worth

    reading! Not macro but some nice traditional recipes from

    Japanese mothers and grandmothers and Elisabeths creativity too.

    Enjoy!

    P.S. Kansha means: ” to appreciate”, and in cooking there is much to appreciate and not waste etc.

  3. Where can I purchase tofu pouches when I am in Arizona ? Thanks

    Tucson is the closest city ,app. 2 hours ride …..or on-line maybe ? Thanks

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